Many Evangelicals don't see the point of the Rosary and others feel it is blasphemous. I was listening to the famous Evangelical Pastor, Chuck Swindoll:
I was on an airplane where there was a lot of turbulence, and a lady was clutching her beads like they were going to save her!
I find it remarkable that someone can be a pastor for 50 years, preach against the Rosary on national radio, and not take 15 minutes to learn the basics of what the Catholic Church has to say about the Rosary. This is why it's best to learn about the Catholic Church from Catholics, rather than TV Evangelists.
Rosary beads are simply a tool that helps us remember God. An Evangelical woman on that plane might be reciting "How Great thou Art."
My wife Kirsten, was a fervent Evangelical, and her experience with the Rosary surprised her. Now she does it every day.
The very first Protestant in history, reformation leader Martin Luther wouldn't agree with this "modern" criticism of the Rosary. He said:
"Our prayer should include the Mother of God . . . What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor . . . We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her " (Personal Prayer Book, 1522).
Many Evangelicals think the Rosary is "all about Mary." The Rosary is actually mostly about Jesus. Almost 90% of the Rosary is directly from the Bible. The rest is from early Christians. Calculations of the percentages are here.
I turned my life over to Jesus in 1988. I started meditating the Rosary in 1991. I have done it almost every day since that time. I often drift into a contemplative state and sometimes I feel transported to the foot of the Cross, standing beside Mary, witnessing my Savior bearing the weight of my sin. Sometimes I get insight into the meaning of Scripture as it applies to my life. Other times I get a warm glow through my entire body.
Martin Luther said "There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven" (Sermon, September 1, 1522). He talked to her in the first person "No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity." (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537).
The vocal part of the Rosary has prayers straight to Jesus. (see below) Even the "Hail Mary" is not a prayer to Mary. The Catechism calls the Rosary a "Marian Prayer." That is because we are asking Mary to Pray for us. She is interceding the same way a pastor might pray for you or me. We think she is a kicking prayer warrior. Even better than Evangelical pastors.
Mary was a "born again" Christian who received the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost and spoke in tongues 2000 years before Pentecostals got the gift. (Acts 1:14, 2:3)
The Rosary says "Pray for us sinners." I have no problem asking Mary to pray for me, I think she is quite good at it. If she is in heaven like Martin Luther said, then she is a serious prayer warrior.
Some Evangelicals think the verse "Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do." (Mat 6:7 - NRSV) condemns repetitious prayers. But let's look at it. The key words here are "empty" and "Gentiles." The Gentiles prayed to pagan Gods, their prayers were empty, insincere and blasphemous. The verse is a condemnation of empty prayers to pagan gods. I don't think this passage is a condemnation of repetition. The Greek word is "Battologeo", which comes from "Battos," a stammerer, someone who stutters, which is meaningless syllables. This would apply much more to "speaking in tongues" than repeating a great prayer. Although I have nothing against authentic speaking in tongues.
The word "repetition" is not mentioned in most translations of the verse. One could "heap up" empty "free form" praises (that don't repeat) as easily as one could "heap up" a repeating phrase from Scripture. The crucial thing is not whether a phrase repeats, but rather whether it is sincere.
Two verses later Jesus gives us the Lord's Prayer (Mat 6:9). This is a main prayer in the Rosary. It is neither empty or pagan. It is Holy and honorable and worth repeating because it has meaning.
Many of the beautiful traditional Protestant hymns are repetitious. The repetition of "Praise God" during free form worship in Evangelical Assemblies is repetitive. Even the angels are eternally in the presence of God repeating "Holy, Holy, Holy (Rev 4:8). This is not empty nor pagan is it? It pleases God. When I do the Rosary, I'm sincere. I'm saying very meaningful prayers that come from Scripture. I think this makes Jesus immensely happy and He has given me the experience of his love consistently during the Rosary to prove it.
- In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
- I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I
believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the
power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under
Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at
the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and
the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion
of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the
life everlasting. (Said before the Rosary)
- Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily
bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against
us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Said before
- Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it
was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. (Said
after each decade)
- O my Jesus, forgive us of our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead
all souls into heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. (Said
after each decade)
- Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. (Luke 1:28)
Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:41-42a,Luke 1:48),
Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus (Luke 1:42b)
Holy Mary, Mother of God (Luke 1:43)
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen (Luke 2:35, John 2:3-5)
The "Hail Mary" written above has the scriptural references after each line. Some Evangelicals feel that it is blasphemous to say that Mary is "Holy." Peter quoted Jesus, "You shall be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:14-16). I don't think Evangelicals would think that is blasphemous. Jesus said that human beings shall be Holy, because Jesus is Holy, and also Mary is Holy because Jesus is Holy. Her holiness is derived from him. Mary's obedience to God and closeness to Jesus made her holy. Our nearness to Jesus makes us Holy.
There is an inscription found in the grotto of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which reads "Ch-e Maria," which is an abbreviation of the Greek phrase "Chaire Maria" or "Hail Mary." This was left between 200-300AD by a Greek Christian who visited the site of the Annunciation, as presented in Luke 1:28.
Christian graffiti written at the foot of a column
under The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
What is of special significance here is that "Chaire Maria" ("Hail Mary") is not the specific greeting in Luke's account. Rather, Luke records Gabriel as saying "Chaire Kecharitomenae" or "Hail, Full of Grace" (or "Hail, Perfectly Graced"). But, this is not what the inscription reads. Rather, it addresses Mary by name, showing that this early Christian had a personal devotion to her; and it is also the very earliest record of the Catholic prayer, the "Hail Mary."
Why do we say "Mother of God?"
A stumbling block is sometimes the "Mother of God" line. The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 declared that Mary was the "God-bearer" (Theotokos). Mary bore Jesus, Jesus is God, therefore she is the mother of God. The Rosary says: Hail Mary, full of Grace. It does not say source of Grace.
When I was freed of addiction, I was filled with God's free gift of Grace. How much more would Mary, the Mother of Jesus, be filled with God's free gift of Grace when she was holding Jesus in her womb. This lady has an intimate relationship with our Lord.
Some Evangelicals can't imagine how a memorized prayer could at all come from the heart. Yet they memorize dozens of beautiful praise songs. If I was to walk up to an Evangelical, who is praising God in song and say, "You are all in your head, you are not sincere cause you memorized that and therefore it is not coming from the heart" they would quickly correct me and say "It is no struggle for me to worship God through this song. I memorized it but now it is part of me and I incorporate that in my heartfelt praise."
I can honestly say that I had the Rosary perfectly memorized within a few weeks. That was over 15 years ago. It has been in my heart ever since. I do not struggle with remembering the Rosary - it's no longer in my head. It is 25 minutes long, the length of five praise songs.
I've played music for many Evangelical worship services. Each of these services has its own pattern (e.g., four fast songs, five slow choruses, a sermon and an altar call). It is not a prearranged "ceremony" but it is more or less the same each week. I think God is a God of order and pattern and that is OK with me. There appears to be something instinctive in the human spirit about this. Some Evangelicals walk around the same block every morning (sometimes while saying prayers). When Evangelical music ministers memorize a Christian song glorifying God, they are not in their head after it becomes a part of their repertoire.
Often during the Rosary, I drift into a contemplative state and sometimes I feel transported to the foot of the Cross, standing beside Mary, witnessing my Savior bearing the weight of my sin. Sometimes I get insight into the meaning of Scripture as it applies to my life. Other times I get a warm glow through my entire body. I would like to think this is the Holy Spirit. It is as powerful as anything I've experienced at an Evangelical event when the Holy Spirit came upon us.
I've heard it said "the Rosary is all about Mary." Actually it is more about Jesus in Scripture than Mary. There are two layers to the Rosary. 1) The physical layer which is the repeating of prayers and 2) the meditation on the "Mysteries" which are scenes from Scripture of Jesus' life.
If we take into consideration both these aspects and give equal weight to them both, the Rosary is about 65% about Jesus and 35% a request for prayer from Mary. (88% of the Rosary is directly from Scripture) For information on how I came to this conclusion go here.
Many Evangelicals do not know that the Rosary is very Bible centred. It is a meditation on the life of Jesus and his conquest over death. Here are the biblical sources of the Rosary.
Joyful Mysteries(Monday & Saturday)
First Decade: The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Second Decade: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)
Third Decade: The Birth of Our Lord (Luke 2:1-21)
Fourth Decade: The Presentation of Our Lord (Luke 2:22-38)
Fifth Decade: The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
First Decade: The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13-16)
Second Decade: The Wedding at Cana, when Christ manifested Himself (Jn 2:1-11)
Third Decade: The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15)
Fourth Decade: The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matthew 17:1-8)
Fifth Decade: The Last Supper, when Our Lord gave us the Holy Eucharist (Mt 26)
Sorrowful Mysteries(Tuesday & Friday)
First Decade: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
Second Decade: Our Lord is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
Third Decade: Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
Fourth Decade: Our Lord Carries the Cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32)
Fifth Decade: The Crucifixion of Our Lord (Matthew 27:33-56)
Glorious Mysteries(Wednesday & Sunday)
First Decade: The Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord (John 20:1-29)
Second Decade: The Ascension of Our Lord (Luke 24:36-53)
Third Decade: The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41)
Fourth Decade: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven (Song of Songs 2:2,10-11)
Fifth Decade: The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth (Gn 3:15a) (Jdt 13:18) (Jdt 15:9) (Rv 12:1) (Sir 24:4) (Sir 14:9) (Cor 4:17) (Lk 8:21)(Gal 4:19)
Some Evangelicals have problems with this "Queen" thing. Perhaps the best way to explain it is to compare Heaven to the Commonwealth. We live in a time when the Queen of England is the highest in the Commonwealth. There is no king. She wears the commonwealth trousers. She is it. She is the focus. I grew up singing "God save the Queen." So it is natural that our contemporary understanding of the word queen would be that of someone in highest authority. But what happens to the queen when there is a king. Then who has the authority? In commonwealth law, when there is a king, the queen has absolutely no authority whatsoever except perhaps the quiet of a whisper in the king's ear to influence a decision. (Jn 2:3)
JESUS IS KING. He is it. Now if Mary is Queen, it means that she has no authority whatsoever over his decisions except a whisper in his ear (Jn 2:3). So I don't believe that calling Mary the Queen of the Universe diminishes the King's (Jesus') authority in the least. In fact it reinforces it. What respectable King does not have a Queen? Revelation 11:12 says:
12 :1 A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne..
Jesus only had one Mother and this passage is talking about the woman that gave birth to the Saviour. She has a Crown. The passage also clearly shows Mary as an active participant in the war against the devil. The Passage presents Jesus on his rightful throne. What respectable King does not have a Queen?
I hope I have not caused anxiety with this article. I wish only to help build a bridge between Catholics and Protestants. I don't believe that avoiding Mary will help build this bridge. I can't see this issue going away, at least in my own life and in the lives of the millions of Christians who are alive in the spirit of Christ and have been enriched by their relationship to Mary. Time spent with Mary does not take away from Jesus anymore than time spent with other Christians.
I would like to conclude with an invitation. It may be very difficult and perhaps impossible for some. I would like to ask you to forget everything you have ever heard about Mary, everything that you have ever read about her, including what I have said here.
I would like to invite you to pray to Jesus. Most Christians would agree that it is completely safe to pray to Jesus about anything. I would like to invite you to pray to Jesus about Mary. Simply ask Jesus to show you the truth about his mother. Ask Him to direct your thinking about her. Ask Jesus if his mother is alive with Him. Ask Him if Mary is praying for us. Just pray to Jesus about her. Try this every night for six weeks. I am thoroughly convinced that He will bring you to the truth about his mother.
Other topics on Mary:
Mary in the Bible
Hugh's experience with Mary
Is Mary a Pagan Goddess?
Martin Luther's quotes about Mary
Learn the Rosary
Do Catholics pray to Mary?
What's this Co-Redemptrix nonsense?
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.